Confidential Memo Reveals US Plan
to Provoke an Invasion of Iraq
by Jamie Doward, Gaby Hinsliff
and Mark Townsend, The Observer/UK
www.commondreams.org/, June 21,
A confidential record of a meeting between
President Bush and Tony Blair before the invasion of Iraq, outlining
their intention to go to war without a second United Nations resolution,
will be an explosive issue for the official inquiry into the UK's
role in toppling Saddam Hussein.
The memo, written on 31 January 2003,
almost two months before the invasion and seen by the Observer,
confirms that as the two men became increasingly aware UN inspectors
would fail to find weapons of mass destruction (WMD) they had
to contemplate alternative scenarios that might trigger a second
resolution legitimising military action.
Bush told Blair the US had drawn up a
provocative plan "to fly U2 reconnaissance aircraft painted
in UN colours over Iraq with fighter cover". Bush said that
if Saddam fired at the planes this would put the Iraqi leader
in breach of UN resolutions.
The president expressed hopes that an
Iraqi defector would be "brought out" to give a public
presentation on Saddam's WMD or that someone might assassinate
the Iraqi leader. However, Bush confirmed even without a second
resolution, the US was prepared for military action. The memo
said Blair told Bush he was "solidly with the president".
The five-page document, written by Blair's
foreign policy adviser, Sir David Manning, and copied to Sir Jeremy
Greenstock, the UK ambassador to the UN, Jonathan Powell, Blair's
chief of staff, the chief of the defence staff, Admiral Lord Boyce,
and the UK's ambassador to Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer,
outlines how Bush told Blair he had decided on a start date for
Paraphrasing Bush's comments at the meeting,
Manning, noted: "The start date for the military campaign
was now pencilled in for 10 March. This was when the bombing would
Last night an expert on international
law who is familar with the memo's contents said it provided vital
evidence into the two men's frames of mind as they considered
the invasion and its aftermath and must be presented to the Chilcott
inquiry established by Gordon Brown to examine the causes, conduct
and consequences of the Iraq war.
Philippe Sands, QC, a professor of law
at University College London who is expected to give evidence
to the inquiry, said confidential material such as the memo was
of national importance, making it vital that the inquiry is not
held in private, as Brown originally envisioned.
In today's Observer, Sands writes: "Documents
like this raise issues of national embarrassment, not national
security. The restoration of public confidence requires this new
inquiry to be transparent. Contentious matters should not be kept
out of the public domain, even in the run-up to an election."
The memo notes there had been a shift
in the two men's thinking on Iraq by late January 2003 and that
preparing for war was now their priority. "Our diplomatic
strategy had to be arranged around the military planning,"
Manning writes. This was despite the fact Blair that had yet to
receive advice on the legality of the war from the Attorney General,
Lord Goldsmith, which did not arrive until 7 March 2003 - 13 days
before the bombing campaign started.
In his article today, Sands says the memo
raises questions about the selection of the chair of the inquiry.
Sir John Chilcott sat on the 2004 Butler inquiry, which examined
the reliability of intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war,
and would have been privy to the document's contents - and the
doubts about WMD running to the highest levels of the US and UK
Many senior legal experts have expressed
dismay that Chilcott has been selected to chair the inquiry as
he is considered to be close to the security services after his
time spent as a civil servant in Northern Ireland.
Brown had believed that allowing the Chilcott
inquiry to hold private hearings would allow witnesses to be candid.
But after bereaved families and antiwar campaigners expressed
outrage, the prime minister wrote to Chilcott to say that if the
panel can show witnesses and national security issues will not
be compromised by public hearings, he will change his stance.
Lord Guthrie, a former chief of the defence
staff under Blair, described the memo as "quite shocking".
He said that it underscored why the Chilcott inquiry must be seen
to be a robust investigation: "It's important that the inquiry
is not a whitewash as these inquiries often are."
This year, the Dutch government launched
its own inquiry into its support for the war. Significantly, the
inquiry will see all the intelligence shared with the Dutch intelligence
services by MI5 and MI6. The inquiry intends to publish its report
in November - suggesting that confidential information about the
role played by the UK and the US could become public before Chilcott's
inquiry reports next year.